Ratliff, William Marvin, & Ratliff Institute
Reverend William M. Ratliff was the founder and president of Ratliff Institute, later referred to as a mission. The school was located in Louisville, KY, from 1926-1930, and for a brief period, the school was located in Glasgow, KY, 1929-1931, then open again in Louisville from about 1934-1938. The schools in Kentucky were not Rev. Ratliff's first schools or his last schools. In 1914, he was the founder, president, and financial agent of the Rescue Home and Industrial School in Bennettsville, South Carolina (source: "Our Civic Centers. Columbus" on p.660, col 1, in Western Christian Advocate, May 27, 1914, vol.LXXX, no.21. Online at Google Books.). The school in Bennettsville was chartered November 7, 1913 (source: p.1021 in Acts and Joint Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina, Passed at the Regular Session of 1914. Online at Google Books). Rev. Ratliff had campaigned for funding for the school as early as 1912, and his efforts were interpreted by the Sumter, S. C. newspaper as Rev. Ratliff's personal efforts "to get his race awakened to the fact that the white people of the South are among their best friends." [Quote from "In behalf of Rescue Home. Colored preacher here to raise funds for worthy cause," The Watchman and Southron, 02/24/1912, p.5, col 5. Online at Chronicling America] The names of financial supporters of the Rescue Home and Industrial School were published in the newspaper, see "Subscribers to Rescue Home" in The Laurens Advertiser, 03/12/1913, p.11, col 3 (online at Chronicling America). Rev. Ratliff would leave South Carolina and was in Kentucky in 1918, and would return to South Carolina in 1938 and open another school and a misstion that lasted until the late 1950s.
Rev. William Marvin Ratliff was born in South Carolina in December of 1884. In 1918, he completed his Draft Registration Card during WWI and gave his permanent address as 920 W. Chestnut Street in Louisville. He listed his mother's name as Sarah Jane Ratliff, and he was an evangelist with the Baptist Home Mission Board in Nashville, TN. Around 1924, Rev. Ratliff married Anna Huff from South Carolina, and their first child William Jr. was born in Louisville on July 12, 1926 (see Find A Grave and William Ratliff Jr. obituary at Legacy.com). The couple would have other children. But it was around the birth of their oldest son that Rev. Ratliff had opened Ratliff Bible Industrial Institute, Inc. in his home (source: p.1597 in Caron's Directory of the City of Louisville, Ky. for 1926), and his wife Anna was a teacher at the school (source: p.1763 in Caron's Louisville City Directory for 1928). Rev. Ratliff was also pastor of the Ratliff Institutional Church that was held in his home. The school would eventually be located at 1617-1621 Hale Avenue in Louisville (source: front cover of the title Ratliff Institute Incorporated). The trustees of the school were former students. Most of the classes were conducted at night because the teachers had day jobs. "The faculty is made up of teachers and students from Simmons University, Louisville University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southern Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and the Young Men's and Women's Christian Association." "When our next term begins, Wednesday, October 11, 1931, classes in wood work, plumbing, blacksmithing, carpentry, printing, and all kindred industries will be organized." [Quotes from p.6 in Ratliff Institute Incorporated.] All of the previously mentioned classes were for the male students. Musical instrument and voice were also taught at the school. "Training is given in Domestic Arts. Young ladies who wish to be trained in the art of cooking, sewing, millinery and dressmaking, will be provided with teachers that have proven to be very efficient." "But with all we may teach, the Bible is to be inoculated into the hearts of all." [Quotes from p.8 in Ratliff Institute Incorporated.]
The plan may have been for Ratliff Institute to open in Louisville in 1931, but there is no mention of the school in the 1931 city directory, however, there is a Wm M. Ratliff listed at the Hale Avenue address. Perhaps the family had only recently returned to Louisville. According to the 1930 U.S. Census, the Ratliff family lived in Glasgow, KY, on Brown Street, and shared their home with Anna's mother, Clara Huff. Rev. Ratliff was head of a normal school, Ratliff Industrial Institute, an independent secondary school that was supported and managed by the Colored people of Glasgow, according to Richard Alsup Palmore's thesis, History of Education of Barren County, Kentucky, p.117. According to Palmore, the school in Glasgow was started in 1926 and closed around 1931. The school probably opened in 1929 or 1930; according to the publication, Ratliff Institute Incorporated, on Monday, June 4, 1929, Glasgow Mayor Clayton called a meeting at the city's Chamber of Commerce. The city fathers of Glasgow wanted to erected an industrial school for African Americans. Judge W. L. Porter was willing to give 15-20 acres of old fort land for the school. The oil tanks on the land were also to go to the school after the previous lease expired in 2-3 years. The school was to be called the W. L. Porter Industrial Department of the Ratliff Institute. Mayor Clayton chaired the committee and those who attended the meeting were Bess Howard; B. A. Sykes; Joe Richardson, editor of the Times newspaper; W. H. Jones, Sr., editor of the Republican newspaper; Jess P. Brooks, editor of the Shopping News; Mrs. W. M. Ratliff; Steve Logan; Frank Wade; H. T. Myers; George Ellis; Howe Ralston; Thomas Reynolds; R. A. Palmore; Rev. C. E. Burns; and Walter Tinsley (source: last page of Ratliff Institute Incorporated). The school in Glasgow, KY was a short lived venture and closed in 1931. The Ratliff family returned to Louisville, KY, and Ratliff Institute was again listed in the city directory in 1934, along with Rev. Ratliff as pastor of the Ratliff Institute Church. Both the school and the church were held at 1229 W. KY (source: p.1449 in Carson's Louisville City Directory for 1934). By 1937, the church and the school had moved to 232 S. 11th Street (source: p.32 in Carson's Louisville City Directory for 1937), and they were last listed in Carson's Louisville (Kentucky) City Directory 1938, p.18.
The Louisville school had actually been closed by the authorities around July of 1938, it was then located at 640 S. Eighth Street. The school was referred to as a "makeshift mission" in the Sunday Louisville Courier Journal, 07/17/1938, p.. Rev. Ratliff was charged with "contributing to the dependency of 19 Negro children" and was tried by jury in the Louisville, KY juvenile court. The investigation of the mission was carried out by both the city and the state Health Departments, and reports were filed with the Board of Trade. The investigators found the 19 orphans were malnourished, and the building was said to be filthy and a fire hazard. The children were said to be suffering from rickets, syphilis, and other diseases. Rev. Ratliff defended his mission, stating that his mission cared for the children, clothed the poor, fed the hungry, and had a fine Sunday school. He invited Walter E. Hughes from the Board of Trade to attend his Sunday services, and when Hughes arrived, there was no one around and the building was locked. Hughes went upstairs to Rev. Ratliff's apartment, and Rev. Ratliff eventually came down and started the services with a congregation of three: Hughes, and a woman and child [probably Rev. Ratliff's wife and son]. There was also to be a night service at Rev. Ratliff's church, a special speaker had been invited to address the congregation, but when he arrived, there was no congregation, the church doors were locked, and Rev. Ratliff was at home in the bed. All of this was told during the trial. Rev. Ratliff was sentenced to 50 days in the workhouse and fined $100, but both were suspended. According to the newspaper article in the Courier-Journal, the Board of Trade had records of Rev. Ratliff's institutions dating back to 1922. Ratliff Institute would not be allowed to reopen. Rev. Ratliff was probably sick during this period of his life; the newspaper article gave his age as 70 years old, but he was only 54. In addition to his possible bad health, the United States was in an economic downturn that started in 1937 and continued for a year (see "What caused the recession of 1937-38" by Dr. Douglas Irwin at voxeu.org). Though Rev. Ratliff fought to keep the mission open and claimed to have sufficient funding, it was obvious to the investigators that the Ratliff Mission was struggling financially and the children were not receiving proper care, as was true in other mission houses.
The Ratliff family left Louisville and returned to South Carolina (source: p.644 in Hill's Greenville (Greenville County, S. C.) City Directory 1940). Rev. Ratliff is listed in the city directory as having a mission (source: p.322 in Hill's Greenville (Greenville County, S. C.) City Directory 1941), and he also founded the Carolina Bible Institute, Inc. in his home at 124 N. Leach Street in Greenville, SC. The mission school operated in some form or fashion until about 1959 (sources: p.506 in Hill's Greenville (Greenville County, S. C.) City Directory 1952; and p.541 in the 1959 Greenville city directory). Rev. William Marvin Ratliff, Sr. died in May of 1970 (see Find A Grave).